Wandering Pine is reader-supported. When you buy through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.  Thank you!  Learn more.

img_4266.jpgThe last month or so has felt like a shifting of gears….a combination of the seasons changing, and my body aging.   It happens every Autumn.  November is the longest month of the year… and I feel it setting in.   Instead of fighting this slowing down like I usually do, I’m trying to appreciate the transition and open to what a time of rest can bring.

I’m learning about the importance of solitude, reading books and plugged in the light therapy lamp I bought at a garage sale this summer.  My hiking pace, distance and frequency have slowed dramatically since our Superior Hiking Trail 100 miler and I’m adjusting to that too.

Lake Carlos State Park

The kids had their own plans again this year for MEA weekend, a weekend that many Minnesota families take as a 4 day mini-vacation in the Fall.   Last year, I took the day off to spend with the kids and ended up having the most wonderful first-time solo backpacking overnight at Afton State Park.   I didn’t expect to spend it alone again, but I really enjoyed having a day to myself.   I’m probably just going to start calling it “ME”A weekend from now on and make it a tradition of having a day of solitude.

IMG_4883.jpgI woke up on Friday morning and decided that I wanted to earn my 125 Mile Hiking Club Patch.  I’ve been doing the Minnesota State Parks Hiking Club for 4 years and it’s brought me to 42 State Parks! I was only 5.7 miles away from my next milestone, so I did a little quick planning and discovered that a scenic drive to West Central Minnesota for the day would get me there with .2 miles to spare!  The pup hasn’t been on a good long hike in a while, so we ventured out on our adventure with only one goal in mind…

…hit 125 miles before dark.



LENGTH 2.9 mile hiking club trail
DIFFICULTY Easy and flat
DATE  October 19, 2018
MAIN FEATURES  Lake views, group cabin camping, nice picnic area

Lake Carlos State Park Hiking Club Trail is an easy loop along the shore of Lake Carlos and around Hidden Lake.   The trail is well marked with blue diamonds for cross country skiing in the winter, but you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for Hiking Club signs to make sure you are still on the right trail.   The Hiking Club Trail way finding signage varies by park and some are better at it than others.   The trail was covered in a thick blanked of golden leaves and I accidentally missed a turn and ended up in a residential area—hello!

Some of my favorite things on this trail were seeing the Bald Eagle’s nest and golden Tamarack trees.   I heard rifles in the distance and wondered what type of hunting season was happening in mid-October and wondered if it might be a good idea to get a big orange hat for hiking this time of year.

fullsizeoutput_2729.jpegEven with it being a busy MEA weekend (where most state parks are booked with families squeezing in one last camping trip for the year), we had the whole trail to ourselves!

This would be a great park for group camping as they have a large complex of cabins right on the lake.   I bet they get a lot of Youth Groups and Retreats at this park and it would be fun to check into that for future adventures.


LENGTH 4.7 mile hiking club trail
DIFFICULTY Easy with rolling hills
DATE  October 19, 2018
MAIN FEATURES  Rolling hills with expansive prairie views

Glacial Lakes Park Hiking Club Trail has a wonderful rolling terrain with breathtaking views of Minnesota’s prairie landscape.  I haven’t been hiking on a lot of prairies and I was surprised at how it kind of stole my heart.

img_4169.jpgAlmost immediately, the “Little House on the Prairie” theme song came to mind and I expected  to see Ma and Pa roll up in the covered wagon and the littlest Wilder sister tumble down the hill in a ball of cuteness.   (Its crazy that I remembered that part)

IMG_4226The trail starts in a wide open prairie, working it’s way up to a couple of views from the tops of hills.   The trail continues through a thick Oak forest, where they have nicely maintained backpacking sites with brand new latrines.  We stopped to check out the Red Oak backpacking site, which is right off the hiking trail but still very secluded.   FYI:   The Park Ranger said that ticks can get bad here in the Spring and early Summer, so make sure you used good tick prevention methods and check yourself after visiting.  This park would be amazing to visit for star gazing since the sky on the prairie is wide open!

img_4133.jpgThe park gets its name from all of the small lakes that were left by glaciers.   My photo doesn’t capture the stark contrast of these dark blue almost black lakes against the amber yellow prairie grass.  The pup and I made sure to stop and really soak in the beauty of this park before heading to the last one.   Of the three we visited, I found this park to have the most unique beauty.


Along the drive, I kept seeing signs along the Highway for the Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway. I had never heard of this route, so I had to look it up after I got back home.   It looks like a wonderful way to spend a day or two, winding around the historic Minnesota prairie, definitely worth exploring!

This officially designated Minnesota State Scenic Byway is a 220 mile route through lakes, woods and farmlands. Massive glaciers once covered this land; as they melted, they left west central Minnesota dotted with lakes nestled among hills and ridges. This byway offers several scenic loops and side trips. Three state parks, Sibley, Monson and Glacial Lakes, are a mix of hardwood forest, prairie and lakes and are good spots for hiking, bird watching and fishing.


LENGTH 1 mile hiking club trail
DIFFICULTY Very easy, small park, geared towards car camping and fishing
DATE  October 19, 2018
MAIN FEATURES   A quick little loop with lake view and U.S.-Dakota War historical marker

This 346 acre park was established in 1923 as a memorial to the members of the Broberg and Lundborg families who died in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. As I have mentioned before, I’m kind of a late-bloomer in learning my Minnesota history, partly since I spent my early childhood in California, and partly since I just didn’t pay attention (I now regret that).   As I hike this state’s beautiful trails, I am engaged to learn more about their past and the weight of historical events that have occurred there.

There are several Minnesota sites that tell the story of the U.S.-Dakota War.  Learn more about the events that occurred at these locations through on-site exhibits, historic and interpretive signs, and interpretive programs. 

2012 marked 150 years since the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, a disastrous time in Minnesota’s history. The war, its causes, and its aftermath had a profound impact in shaping Minnesota as we know it today.

The Minnesota Historical Society developed a special exhibit that covers the many different stories and interpretations of this period. Visit the Society’s U.S.-Dakota War website , or get information about the exhibit  at the Minnesota History Center in St Paul.

img_4187.jpgThis little park was fairly unimpressive due to its size and short trail, and is best combined with another park visit.  But I appreciate that it makes me want to learn more about the Minnesota’s history  and hope to dig deeper into that this winter.

We finished our hike about an hour before darkness fell and made it home in time for dinner.   I realized that with the exception of talking to the park ranger briefly, I had enjoyed about 9 hours of silence.   Yes, you heard that right…this super-extrovert ENJOYED 9 hours of silence AND DIDN’T DIE!   No radio on the 4 hour drive, no phone, just me and the pup, refilling our tanks in the wilderness.

IMG_4263I will leave you with this:

“When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and pines, they give of such hints of gladness.   I would almost say that they save me, and daily.”

-Mary Oliver

Thanks for reading.   If you enjoyed this post and would like to stay up to date, hit the subscribe button and drop me a note in the comments below.

Happy Trails!



Subscribe to our handy newsletter for curated Art and Adventure content, upcoming events and new releases!

Thanks for being here!

privacy policy

Let's Keep in Touch!

Our curated art and adventure content features trip reports, outdoor skills, upcoming classes and shop updates delivered straight to your inbox 1-2 times per month.

We don't spam and you can unsubscribe at anytime.

6 thoughts on “Solo Hiking in West Central MN | Lake Carlos, Glacial Lakes, and Monson Lake State Parks

  1. Thanks for the interesting post and the great pictures.
    Hiking the prairies is interesting, and we have lots of them in Minnesota. Lots of interesting history as well. Did you know that Dred Scott and his wife spent time living in Minnesota -as slaves, no less, at Ft. Snelling. Lots of interesting history, indeed, and all of it isn’t good -wit. the Dakota Wars and Dred Scott’s Supreme Court trials over his freedom, citizenship, and more.
    On a lighter note, I’m looking forward to winter, but we sure got an early start this season! 😉

    1. Thanks Mike, always appreciate your comments. I did read about Dred Scott during a hike at Ft Snelling. I’m hoping to get to the exhibit mentioned above, and feel like its the right time to learn about it. And… we were at Utepils yesterday and I haven’t forgotten that we all have to get out there for a snowshoe and a pint this winter!

  2. Funny that you mention Ma and Pa rolling up on the covered wagon at Glacial lakes SP as the trail you didn’t go on has a camp site at baby lake that has an old covered wagon between the fire ring and the new out house. It’s a great backpacking site I suggest you check it out as it is awesome for star gazing.

    As for learning some history of Minnesota I recommend Black elk speaks, ill let you decide as there is some controversy around the book. I also recommend The Haymakers. It’s a history of Minnesota Farming told through the lives of families in different parts of Minnesota. It was written by a professor at MSU-Moorhead I believe.

    Love reading about your adventures it makes me want to start traveling to the state parks and collecting their badges as well!

    1. Thanks for the book recommendations, I have noted them. I’d love to go back and see more of Glacial Lakes State Park as well, when we have more time. Now that I know how cool it is! Thanks again for the input and happy trails!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.